Gators dazzler, ESPN reporter Erin Andrews: “I really don’t think I’m that big of a deal.”

The last year has been one of ups-and-downs for former Florida Gators dazzler and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews. From having to deal with an unfathomable episode regarding her privacy to performing on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and just recently signing a new two-year deal to remain a featured member of the ESPN broadcast team, Andrews has appeared strong, resilient and unrelenting. On the brink of the greatest undertaking of her career – hosting the first hour of College GameDay live on ESPNU and joining the cast of Good Morning America – she took time out of her schedule to speak exclusively with OGGOA about her career as a Gators dazzler, recent trials and tribulations, perspective on her own fame and love for the University of Florida.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Growing up in Tampa, was the University of Florida always at the top of your list for college? How did you wind up there?
ERIN ANDREWS: “Growing up in Tampa, there are three schools: Florida State, Miami and Florida. Obviously because Florida was closest to Tampa, Tampa is really like Gator haven. I made the comment one day to my dad, which he’ll never let me live down…because I was such a sports fan growing up, I said to him, ‘Dad, I really want to go to a college that has a good football team.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, that’s a great thing to live by Erin. I’m glad that’s what you’re choosing your education by.’ At the time it sounded really stupid, but actually it was kind of funny that it worked out that way because by going to Florida, I knew they had a great journalism program, but also because Florida has such a good football team, we were exposed to TBS, we were exposed to ESPN, we were exposed to all the national sports media coming to the campus to see the team, to see [head coach Steve] Spurrier. That was really good for me to kind of be around that at the time. Actually, that wasn’t a stupid comment.

AS: How much of an influence did your father’s [six-time Emmy Award-winner Steve Andrews] profession have on your major and eventual career?
EA: “My dad played a huge part in it. I grew up with my father being on TV. It just wasn’t a big deal to me. We’d turn on the TV at 6:00 and there was my dad. I grew up at the TV station; I played around on the TV set. So that just wasn’t a big deal – being in front of the camera – because I was so used to [watching] my dad. He was a giant sports fan, so that’s where I got my passion for sports and watching it and becoming familiar with the broadcasters and announcers that I liked – and the athletes. That’s where it all just kind of snowballed. I decided that I wanted to be a broadcaster. I loved the stories with coaches and athletes. I told my dad when I was young, ‘I want to do this for a living.’ He also laughed at me and said, ‘You know, everybody wants to do this for a living.’ I went to Florida, we checked out the journalism school. I really liked it. I just enrolled and it began – the whole process. The first couple years at Florida you don’t really get a taste of your major until probably your junior and senior year – that’s when I was very serious about it.

AS: You obviously spent a good amount of time at Weimer Hall but some of your most exciting times were likely at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. While at Florida, you were famously a member of the Dazzlers for four years. Was that something you had planned on doing from the beginning?
EA: “I grew up dancing my whole life with my little sister [Kendra Andrews]. That was just something I knew that Florida had – a dance team. I loved mine growing up and the experience that I had. I actually auditioned my senior year of high school and didn’t make the team and then went back out my sophomore year and I was on the team my sophomore, junior and senior season[s].”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Erin Andrews…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gators dazzler, ESPN reporter Erin Andrews: “I really don’t think I’m that big of a deal.”

Wrapping up Florida’s Friday Night Lights camp

Mixing pop and circumstance with football drills and relationship building, the Florida Gators use their annual Friday Night Lights camp at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as both a recruiting tool and means of evaluating almost 100 of the best high school football players in the country.

The Gators often pull in some recruits over the FNL weekend, as they did this year, but also find diamonds in the rough as recruits get coached up while listening to hip-hop and getting to know each other.

The Swamp was once again filled with top young talent on July 23, so much so that covering every player that stepped on the field is a near impossibility. Check out six of the more notable visitors (as well as one who interestingly did not show up) and find out where their heads are at…after the break
Continue Reading » Wrapping up Florida’s Friday Night Lights camp

DE Pagan solidifies commitment to Gators

Though the Florida Gators received two commitments before Friday Night Lights even began, the fallout from the event has not been as immediate as many fans might have expected. Perhaps the biggest news coming out of the camp is the solidification of the commitment of four-star defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan (Asheville, NC), who was previously wavering with his decision to wear the Orange and Blue in 2011.

Pagan first committed to the Gators in April but, as soon as May, softened his commitment strength to around 75 percent. Just three weeks ago, he told the Asheville Citizen-Times that he was “about 50 percent on Florida,” saying he would probably not announce officially until his high school season began on Aug. 27.

Some even believed that Florida’s acquisition of five-star defensive end/linebacker Chris Martin via transfer from California would irk Pagan due to the added competition, even though Martin is expected to compete mostly at linebacker.

Instead, according to two recruiting services, Pagan solidified his commitment on Friday after his mom got a chance to visit, tour and approve of the University of Florida.

He is currently one of the highest-rated Gators coming in for 2011, only second behind five-star quarterback Jeff Driskel (Oviedo, FL). Pagan is ranked No. 19 overall by ESPNU and No. 25 by Rivals.

OGGOA RELATED: CB recruit Louchiez Purifoy picks Florida, too
OGGOA RELATED: Four-star lineman Trip Thurman picks Florida

Photo Credit: Asheville Citizen-Times

CB recruit Louchiez Purifoy picks Florida, too

Just hours after gaining a commitment from a four-star offensive lineman, the Florida Gators were informed by cornerback Louchiez Purifoy (Pensacola, FL) that he too will be playing football in Gainesville, FL, next season.

Purifoy, who also had offers from Alabama and Auburn (among others), blew the coaching staff away with a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the Gators’ camp in June. After returning home, he immediately received an offer from head coach Urban Meyer.

A Florida fan his entire life, Purifoy told Rivals, who first reported his commitment, that Meyer’s offer was a “dream come true.” he also said he “considered committing [on the spot in March] but didn’t.”

“I was talking to my mom and my sisters and some other people that have an influence around me and they like (Florida),” Purifoy told The Gainesville Sun. “My mom loves it, and they want me to get a good education and they think I can get it there. It’s also where I can play and get a better chance to get to the next level so I can take care of my family — mom and my sister.”

OGGOA RELATED: DE Pagan solidifies commitment to Gators
OGGOA RELATED: Four-star lineman Trip Thurman picks Florida

Gators center Kenny Kadji granted a transfer

Florida Gators sophomore center Kenny Kadji has requested and received a transfer from the University of Florida and will be released from his scholarship.

“After re-evaluating his situation, Kenny and I had the opportunity to sit down and talk about his future,” head coach Billy Donovan said in a statement. “Kenny has made a decision that it’s in his best interest to start new somewhere else. He’s still recovering from back surgery and working hard to get himself healthy. I wish him the best in his future.”

Kadji, who was given a medical redshirt from the NCAA after only logging 45 total minutes of game time in 2009-10 before ending his season due to a nagging back injury, will have redshirt sophomore status next season if he chooses to remain in college but will also have to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules.

He had back surgery in February to repair a bulging disk, a procedure similar to what former Florida forward Adrian Moss had done in 2005. Reports were that Kadji had healed nicely from the surgery; he was expected to back-up redshirt junior center Vernon Macklin next season, a job that will probably now be filled by four-star incoming freshman forward Patric Young (Jacksonville, FL).

In March, the Orlando Sentinel caught up with Kadji’s AAU coach Matt Ramker, who said that he was “happy at UF” and was “looking forward to next season.”

Now, he has changed his tune.

“I want to thank my coaches and teammates for my two years at the University of Florida,” Kadji said. “While I’m sad that my time here at Florida is ending, UF will always be special to me. I have goals that I hope to reach and only a short window of my life to make those things happen.”

Four-star lineman Trip Thurman picks Florida

Four-star offensive lineman Trip Thurman (Dover, DE) committed to the Florida Gators on Friday, as first reported by Scout.com.

In Gainesville, FL, to participate in the Gators’ annual Friday Night Lights camp, Thurman informed the coaching staff of his decision, something believed to be in the process of happening for quite some time.

Rivals has him ranked as the top player in the state of Delaware and 11th best offensive lineman, while ESPNU only gives him three stars.

OGGOA RELATED: DE Pagan solidifies commitment to Gators
OGGOA RELATED: CB recruit Louchiez Purifoy picks Florida, too

QB commit Jeff Driskel shines at Elite 11 camp

What a week it has been for Florida Gators five-star quarterback commitment Jeff Driskel (Oviedo, FL). Named Most Valuable Player of the Elite 11 QB Camp, Driskel dominated the proceedings from start-to-finish, showing off a strong arm, impressive accuracy, enviable mechanics and college-level decision-making.

Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s recruiting director, said that Driskel resembles Washington QB Jake Locker. ESPN’s Corey Long added, “Driskel is a massive young man at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, his release is on point and his passes have tremendous heat on them.”

He even drew comparisons to some NFL legends – including Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning – as he shredded the competition over the course of four days.

“You always have to try to be at your best and you have to want to be the best and I came out here to play football,” Driskel told Rivals. “I wasn’t here to go to Disneyland even though that ended up being fun. You have to have that focused attitude and I had it throughout the week.”

If you think Denver Broncos rookie QB Tim Tebow and Gators incoming starter redshirt junior John Brantley were highly praised coming out of high school, Driskel’s hype is already reaching that level. He makes all of the required throws and showed during 7-on-7 drills that he can read the field with the best of them.

Even though Driskel is a pro-style quarterback, he is deceptively athletic and runs a 4.52 40-yard-dash. He won’t carry the ball much, but the threat of his speed in head coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense should keep defenses honest if he is able to prove that he can use it.

Driskel is considered the top-rated QB of the 2011 recruiting class by both ESPNU and Rivals. Nationally, he is ranked No. 13 overall by the former and No. 31 by the latter.

Photo Credit: ESPN

Saints bring DE Bobby McCray back for 2010

Former Florida Gators defensive end Bobby McCray was released by the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints exactly one month ago. After agreeing to a reduced contract on Thursday, he will return to Who Dat Nation with a one-year, $1.5 million deal including an additional $1 million in achievable incentives.

McCray, who was the Saints’ third end but started a quarter of his games during his two-year run with New Orleans, made a number of impact plays as a starter during their playoff run last season.

The Saints acquired fellow former Gators defensive end Alex Brown via free agency in the offseason and expect him to start on the left side. McCray, who worked with the first team defense during mini camp, will still see plenty of playing time next season.

He was due a $1.25 million roster bonus and was probably released by New Orleans in order to avoid that payment. The team did not attempt to renegotiate as McCray’s 2010-11 base salary was set at $2 million. Should he hit all of incentives, the Saints will only save $0.75 million with his new contract.

McCray, who made headlines for during the season for his vicious hits on quarterbacks Kurt Warner (Arizona) and Brett Favre (Minnesota), complied 59 tackles, 7.5 sacks, three defended passes and a forced fumble in his previous two years in New Orleans.

Photo Credit: Michael DeMocker/The Times-Picayune

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